Madrid is a wonderful city full of culture, offering a great option for a long weekend or city break. The capital city of Spain boasts spectacular art, beautiful architecture, tantalising local cuisine, and a jubilant nightlife.
This Madrid travel guide will give you all the information you need to plan your own trip, including where to stay, things to see and do, and what to eat and drink.
Getting to the city from Madrid Airport
Madrid-Barajas airport is 12km from the city centre, and there are several transport options available. We use Citymapper where available, which tells you the easiest route for your journey as well as giving you live departure times and traffic updates.
Metro line 8 goes directly from the airport to the city, running from 6am until 1:30am.
The cost for a single ticket plus the airport supplement is €6. You will need to purchase a Madrid public transport card, available from machines at the airport. Confusingly, two people can share one public transport card. Fortunately the friendly staff at the airport metro station were there to help us figure it out!
You can check additional prices and timetables on the Metro Madrid website (available in English and Spanish).
The Airport Express Bus is also an easy way to get into the city, although it can take a little longer. It costs €5 for a single trip, and you can purchase tickets on board the bus with cash.
The bus runs 24 hours, every 15-20 minutes during the day and every 35 minutes at night. You can find more information here.
A one-way taxi to the city costs a flat fee of €30.
Where To Stay in Madrid
Madrid is a relatively small city, and you can walk across the centre in less than 30 minutes.
We opted to stay in the Lavapiés neighbourhood, an ideal location for visiting the museums and Retiro Park. We stayed at Pension Mollo. The rooms were small and basic, but offered good value in a great location.
If you would prefer to stay near the plazas and palaces, the Austrias neighbourhood would be a good option. We visited the modern and quirky Hat Hostel, which had a fun atmosphere and fantastic roof terrace.
Things To Do in Madrid
Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s grand central square. It has impressive imposing architecture, with beautiful balconies and ornate arches leading to alleys and lanes in a labyrinthine fashion. Cafes and restaurants line the square, making it a popular place to eat, but you will be paying inflated tourist prices – we recommend you save your euros and your stomach for elsewhere.
Plaza Mayor has a rich history, with public hearings and executions taking place in the square until it was destroyed by a large fire in 1790. It has since been used in celebrations for royal weddings and births, and even hosted bullfights with 50,000 people crammed into the plaza until the late 1800s.
(We encountered a protest against bullfighting during our visit to Madrid, which encouraged us to learn more and write about the implications of attending a bullfight.)
El Retiro Park
El Retiro Park was originally the gardens of a royal palace, but is now Madrid’s main park with open green spaces and a large lake at its centre. Drift around the lake on a rowboat, or take a picnic under the welcoming shade of a tree.
There are two impressive structures that you can visit in the park that belong to the Reina Sofía art museum: the Palacio de Velazquez and the Palacio de Cristal. They are free to enter, so take the time to explore and marvel at them both.
Madrid is home to some of the best museums in all of Spain, and you can visit them for free if you go at the right time. The queues can be quite long, but they move quickly once the doors are opened.
Museo del Prado contains masterpieces by Spanish artists such as Velázquez, El Greco and Goya, amongst many other European artists. For free entry, visit The Prado between 6pm and 8pm Monday to Saturday, or between 5pm and 7pm on Sunday.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is housed in an 18th-century former hospital, and contains intriguing works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and many more. It’s highlight is Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica, with the famous painting filling a whole room. Reina Sofía is free to visit between 7pm and 9pm on Monday and Wednesday to Saturday, and after 1:30pm on Sundays.
El Rastro Flea Market
Taking place every Sunday between 9am and 3pm, El Rastro is an enormous outdoor market with an abundance of market stalls offering trinkets and treasures, handmades and hand-me-downs. The market is full of life and colour, and it’s a unforgettable experience to let yourself get lost in the slow-moving crowds as everyone hunts for a bargain.
Palacio Real de Madrid
Madrid’s Royal Palace,one of the most decorative palaces in Spain, is the official residence of the King of Spain, although it is now only used for state ceremonies.
Take either the official or a self-guided tour through 50 of the intricately decorated palace rooms, or opt to simply admire the palace’s magnificent architecture from the outside.
Real Madrid Stadium
Football fans can take a self-guided tour of Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. You’ll be able to explore the dressing room, press room, and presidential boxes, walk through the tunnel onto the pitch, and see trophies and other historical items up close. An Adult ticket costs €25 (or €30 with an audio guide).
Eat & Drink in Madrid
Azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes rooftop
Head to the rooftop bar at Círculo de Bellas Artes at sunset for incredible views across the city of Madrid. There is a restaurant housed in a conservatory on the roof with excellent food, or just enjoy a cold drink as you admire the views.
It costs €4 to go up and you may have to wait, but it is well worth it.
Mercado de San Miguel
Mercado de San Miguel is one of the finest gourmet food markets in all of Madrid. Grab a drink and wander around the glass and iron structure, indulging in assorted tapas as you explore the many stalls there specialising in charcuterie, cheese, seafood, and much more. Once you have a plate (or two), find a stool at one of the high tables in the middle of the market and allow your senses to be overwhelmed by delicious food, alluring aromas, and the chatter of your fellow diners enjoying themselves.
The Hat rooftop bar
The Hat is a hostel in the Austrias neighbourhood, located near Plaza Mayor, with a wonderful rooftop bar that is open to the public. It doesn’t command views as impressive as the Círculo de Bellas Artes rooftop, but does have a relaxed atmosphere and refreshing drinks. Try the tinto de verano!
Mercado San Anton
Mercado San Anton is slightly different to the Mercado de San Miguel. It is more similar to a food court, but still has a selection of excellent tapas and other food from around the world available. There is also a rooftop bar, an excellent place to hang out watching the sun go down before heading out in the evening.
El Tigre is a tapas bar known for its cheap, generous portions. Most drinks cost just €5, and come with a free plate piled high with the tapas selection of the day. Two of us paid for a drink each, and left full and happy. The food isn’t necessarily the best quality tapas you will find in Spain, but it’s an exciting feeling wondering what will come out of the kitchen along with your drinks – and you know it’s going to taste good!
Chocolatería San Ginés
Dipping fresh churros into cups of rich, gloopy hot chocolate is one of Madrid’s greatest customs, and there is no place better for it than Chocolatería San Ginés. They’ve been serving up churros since 1984 to locals and visitors alike. You may have to queue, but service is always quick.
Other things to remember
- Madrid’s currency is the Euro, and they use standard EU plug sockets
- Check opening times before you go anywhere. Many smaller or family-operated shops will operate on the traditional Spanish schedule and close between 2pm and 5pm. Similarly, many restaurants and bars close after lunch and do not re-open for dinner until around 8pm.
When to go to Madrid
Spring and Autumn are usually the best options to visit Madrid. Cultural and street festivals usually take place in May. Winters are cold, but there are usually a lot of bright, sunny days. The peak of the summer, particularly in July and August, can be uncomfortably hot, so make sure to find somewhere with air conditioning if you want to go then.
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